Punisher War Journal Classic, v. 1
Collects: Punisher War Journal v. 1 #1-8 (1988-9)
Released: August 2008 (Marvel)
Format: 208 pages / color / $24.99 / ISBN: 9780785131182
What is this?: Jim Lee doing a Punisher series before he became a mega star
The culprits: Writer Carl Potts and penciler Jim Lee
There are an awful lot of Punisher stories out there. Many are available in reprint form; one of those reprints is Punisher War Journal Classic, v. 1. How is this Punisher reprint different from all the others?
The others aren’t drawn by Jim Lee. That’s about it.
This is early Lee — before Image, before he took creative control of franchises, before he even began on X-Men. In fact, this is before everything he did at Marvel but Alpha Flight, where he worked on the tail end of Bill Mantlo’s subpar run. As you might expect, his early work is like his later work but less so, like a less exaggerated imitation of his later work. It’s good work, solid and filled with action, but it’s not the kind of work that would spawn a decade of imitators.
When I said Lee was the only draw for this book, that wasn’t to slight writer Carl Potts. At the time War Journal started, the first Punisher ongoing was at the end of its first year, so it must have seen like there was a near unlimited field of stories to tell. But from this end of the Punisher’s publication history, the novelty has worn off, and readers have seen some of these stories many times. The opening three-issue story with the Punisher running into the mutual revenge plots of two characters peripherally connected to his family’s murder is the most interesting. The Punisher is shaken from his general certitude about who to blame (and thus kill), and the plot is a good reminder that drugs and organized crime have a longer reach than we sometimes remember. It can be seen as a needless addition to the Punisher’s origin, which was my first reaction, but a tie-in to the Punisher’s origin is a logical start to a new series, and the characters involved can be easily jettisoned without regard to the story’s continuity or consequence. It’s not an epic story, but it was a good choice for the opening of the new series, and it does take the character in an interesting direction (temporarily).
The rest of the stories are mostly by the numbers. There’s also a story featuring the Punisher’s Vietnam comrades and a story with the Punisher vs. street gangs. Neither is very memorable, although the Punisher’s van beats a vicious street gang by itself in the latter story. The former involves a secret conspiracy that falls apart far too easily; the conspiracy is backed by a secret government organization — the DEA — and their trade in drugs. In the Punisher’s world, that stands for Defense Espionage Agency rather than Drug Enforcement Administration; I wonder whether Potts didn’t know about the real agency or enjoyed the irony of accusing the DEA of dealing drugs and spreading, rather than stopping, the drug trade. This story is preachy, making me suspect the latter.
Punisher War Journal, v. 1, also has a two-part story that is easily the most transparent and contrived excuse for a Wolverine appearance I have ever seen; strangely, despite Lee’s future career advancement, I found his Wolverine unimpressive. It involves cryptozoology and poaching in Africa; after noting the general lack of preachiness, the less said, the better.
A running subplot throughout the volume features the Japanese family that runs a convenience store in the first floor of one of the Punisher’s safehouses. It seems like a trailer for Potts’s Shadowmasters miniseries, which featured the family and came out later that year. Readers can look at this as a detriment; the optimistic can see it as a inducement for all the Shadowmaster fans — all five of them — to buy this book as a part of their self-constructed Complete Shadowmaster collection.
As a historical note, as a study of the evolution of an artist — and you shouldn’t hold your breath for those mostly forgotten (and rightly so) Alpha Flight issues to be reprinted — Punisher War Journal, v. 1, holds some interest. Otherwise, it’s mostly a bland book, with only the opening arc to rescue it from the skull-covered, Tim Bradstreet-drawn Punisher background.
Rating: (2 of 5)